Your Civil Rights Are Important!
Given the enormous complexity of society, we citizens have granted government authority to regulate our beings and our children to an extent never seen before in the US. As government agents, police and police-like employees, investigate all facets of society they occasionally fail to act lawfully or constitutionally. To give you an understanding of the scope of government, this Wikipedia link shows over 350 California State Agencies.
It’s nothing compared to the list of federal agencies:
There are tens of thousands of government employees. The federal agencies alone have nearly 75 agencies who employ armed agents. We all know some and we can agree that most are trying their best to follow the law. The problem is that many of these government employees, agents and actors have jobs to do which are often diametrically opposed to YOUR best interests. Sometimes these government employees, agents, and actors break the law. Recognizing that these government employees are only human, and that their conduct can range from lawful to repugnant, the state and federal governments have implemented several laws designed to reign in unlawful conduct by government actors.
Title 42 of the United States Code, Section 1983
The importance of this section to American liberty cannot be overstated.
42 U.S.C. section 1983 states in part:
“Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law . . . .”
§ 1983 is not itself a source of substantive rights, but merely provides a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred. This section creates a cause of action against a person who, acting under color of state law, deprives another of rights guaranteed under the Constitution. Section 1983 does not create any substantive rights; rather it is the vehicle whereby plaintiffs can challenge actions by governmental officials.
To prove a case under section 1983, the plaintiff must demonstrate that (1) the action occurred ‘under color of state law’ and (2) the action resulted in the deprivation of a constitutional right or federal statutory right. If there is no violation of a federal right, there is no basis for a civil rights action. Unfortunately, the US Supreme Court has put a brake on Section 1983 claims by granting state actors what is called Qualified Immunity. It is a defense to 1983 cases and is designed to shield public officials “from undue interference with their duties and from potentially disabling threats of liability.” The defense provides immunity from suit, not merely from liability. Its purpose is to spare defendants the burden of going forward with trial.’ The immunity shields the government actors from actions “insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. In other words liability will found only if a hypothetical reasonable person in the government actor’s position would have known that his or her actions violated clearly established law.
It is imperative that any victim of government violation of clearly established rights immediately seek counsel to explore a 1983 lawsuit. Nothing good will come from delay. In fact, if you delay, you might find that everything you said and did is now being used against you. It is not uncommon for a violation of your rights to result in more government investigation which unfortunately often results in salt being rubbed in to your wound.
California has also implemented a statute designed to protect your civil rights.
The Bane Act or Civil Code section 52.1 states as follows:
(a) If a person or persons, whether or not acting under color of law, interferes by threats, intimidation, or coercion, or attempts to interfere by threats, intimidation, or coercion, with the exercise or enjoyment by any individual or individuals of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or of the rights secured by the Constitution or laws of this state, the Attorney General, or any district attorney or city attorney may bring a civil action for injunctive and other appropriate equitable relief in the name of the people of the State of California, in order to protect the peaceable exercise or enjoyment of the right or rights secured.
(b) Any individual whose exercise or enjoyment of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of this state, has been interfered with, or attempted to be interfered with, as described in subdivision (a), may institute and prosecute in his or her own name and on his or her own behalf a civil action for damages, including, but not limited to, damages under Section 52, injunctive relief, and other appropriate equitable relief to protect the peaceable exercise or enjoyment of the right or rights secured. Civil Code section 52(b) provides: Whoever denies the right provided by Section 51.7 or 51.9, or aids, incites, or conspires in that denial, is liable for each and every offense for the actual damages suffered by any person denied that right and, in addition, the following:
(1) An amount to be determined by a jury, or a court sitting without a jury, for exemplary damages.
(2) A civil penalty of twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) to be awarded to the person denied the right provided by Section 51.7 in any action brought by the person denied the right, or by the Attorney General, a district attorney, or a city attorney.
(3) Attorney’s fees as may be determined by the court.
The Bane Act provides a private right of action for damages and injunctive relief for interference with civil rights. The section requires an attempted or completed act of interference with a legal right, accompanied by a form of coercion.
This means there has to be a constitutional violation AND an attempt via coercion likes threat and intimidation. The legislative intent is clear that this section isn’t just for the benefit of protected classes. It benefits all victims: “It is the intent of the Legislature in enacting this act to clarify that an action brought pursuant to Section 52.1 of the Civil Code does not require the individual whose rights are secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or of the rights secured by the Constitution or laws of California, to be a member of a protected class identified by its race, color, religion, or sex, among other things.”
“Subdivision (j) of Civil Code section 52.1 provides that speech alone is insufficient to support such an action, except upon a showing that the speech itself threatens violence against a specific person or group of persons, the person or group of persons against whom the speech is directed ‘reasonably fears that, because of the speech, violence will be committed against them or their property and that the person threatening violence has the apparent ability to carry out the threat.’ . . . The presence of the express ‘reasonable fear’ element, in addition to the ‘apparent ability’ element, in Civil Code section 52.1, governing civil actions for damages, most likely reflects the Legislature’s determination [that] a defendant’s civil liability should depend on the harm actually suffered by the victim.” (In re M.S., supra, 10 Cal.4th at p. 715, internal citation omitted.)
Government Actors are not the only source civil rights violations. Private parties can also violate a citizen’s civil rights. The Unruh act provides victims of private party discrimination a remedy for unlawful conduct. Civil Code section 51 provides in part: (a) This section shall be known, and may be cited, as the Unruh Civil Rights Act. (b) All persons within the jurisdiction of this state are free and equal, and no matter what their sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, or medical condition are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever. Violations of such rights are painful. Victims may recover a statutory penalty of $4000 plus attorneys fees. Civil Code section 52 provides: (a) Whoever denies, aids or incites a denial, or makes any discrimination or distinction contrary to Section 51, 51.5, or 51.6, is liable for each and every offense for the actual damages, and any amount that may be determined by a jury, or a court sitting without a jury, up to a maximum of three times the amount of actual damage but in no case less than four thousand dollars ($4,000), and any attorney’s fees that may be determined by the court in addition thereto, suffered by any person denied the rights provided in Section 51, 51.5, or 51.6. (b) Whoever denies the right provided by Section 51.7 or 51.9, or aids, incites, or conspires in that denial, is liable for each and every offense for the actual damages suffered by any person denied that right and, in addition, the following: (1) An amount to be determined by a jury, or a court sitting without a jury, for exemplary damages. (2) A civil penalty of twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) to be awarded to the person denied the right provided by Section 51.7 in any action brought by the person denied the right, or by the Attorney General, a district attorney, or a city attorney. (3) Attorney’s fees as may be determined by the court.